Before: Look Around, Ask Around
Start with the obvious sources. The company's website should describe its history, mission, execs, partners and employment opportunities. If the position you are pursuing is posted you have a checklist to gauge your interest and qualifications. If there is no website or if the position is not listed, ask the company for a hard copy corporate overview and job description.
For more information, explore the major portals/search engines for articles and press. Check out PR Newswire (www.prnewswire.com) for recent announcements. Go to Hoover's Online (www.hoovers.com) for a company profile and list of competitors or to industry trades like The Red Herring (www.redherring.com) and The Industry Standard (www.thestandard.com) for profiles plus additional coverage. Search for annual reports and other government filings (www.sec.gov or www.edgar-online.com).
Post your inquiries on Vault.com (obviously) and other career information sites, but don't stop there. Reply directly to anyone offering worthwhile advice and try to initiate a dialogue. Just be certain you pick a credible site and take everything said with a grain of salt. Message board anonymity can foster more candid responses, but it can also impinge on people's credibility.
During: Ask the Tough(er) Questions
Now you can dig-in to the company face-to-face, but you should do several things in advance of your meetings. Make an organizational chart to track the company's key personnel and visualize where you would fit in the hierarchy. Get the interviewer list and suggest they add anyone whom seems crucial to your decision and success (e.g. a peer, your prospective boss's boss or the founders). Ask about the dress-code and err on the side of conservatism.
~Upon arrival, focus your questions on the major points of consideration:
- The Company - is this the place for you?
- Vision - What are the plans and goals?
- Staff - Where are they from? Why did they join? How long have they been on board? Why do people leave? Where do they go to?
- Turnover - Get real numbers and calculate; Don't settle for "low" or "below average."
- Competition - Who are today's top rivals? Tomorrows?
- The Position - Is this the job for you?
- Reason - Why is this position open? (replacement? expansion?)
- Role & Responsibilities - Don't treat the posting as gospel; make sure the expectations are clear and agreeable.
- Resources - What do you need to be successful and how much of that is available?
- Advancement - If you do your job well, what comes next?
- The Supervisor - Can you can work for him/her on a daily basis?
- Management Style/Philosophy - This is hard to articulate but worth asking
- Perspective - Do you share a common outlook on your role and the industry?
- Background - Where did s/he come from and what can s/he teach you?
- Plans - What doe s/he want from his/her job and the company?
After: Follow Through on Your Swing
If the interviews went well, and you think this could be your new home, reference check the company. Your prospective employer will do it to you, and with good reason, so check them out. Many companies will be uncomfortable with this so don't ask for references; just keep track of the names and backgrounds of key personnel, and you should come up with a few people whom you can ask a few questions. Go back to the job-boards, and see if your post-interview insight helps you elicit more information.
Finally, use the same process as before to check out their VC's. In these days of limitless venture funding, be sure to consider where the money is coming from, since many of the opinions and opportunities will come from the same sources.
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